Bad season for Likhopo?

Bad season for Likhopo?

MASERU – A new season is supposed to bring fresh beginnings with new hopes. Unfortunately for Likhopo that has not been the case with the 2018/19 Econet Premier League campaign so far.
Last season the 2005 and 2006 league champions survived relegation by the skin of their teeth as they scraped through a relegation-promotion playoff against first division sides Ketane and Lithabaneng to retain their coveted top-flight status.

Given a second chance at Premier League life, Likhopo came into the 2018/19 campaign hoping for a change of fortunes, but that hasn’t happened.
Likhopo lost their opening two games of this season and once again find themselves where they didn’t want to be – in the relegation zone.
After two games ‘The Red Army’ are 12th in the Econet Premier League with zero points and questions already being asked of their prospects.
Is the personnel at the club good enough for the elite league?

Is this the year Likhopo’s luck finally runs out?
Likhopo were once a consistent team before these dark times.
‘The Red Army’ finished no lower than seventh between 2013 and 2016 reaching a high mark of fifth place at the end of the 2015/16 campaign.
At the end of that season, however, club icons Bokang Mothoana, Tefo Maipato, Sefoli Ntoi, Nyakhane Nyakhane, and Thapelo Tale all left the club before Lehlomela Ramabele followed suit soon afterwards.

It has been downhill from there.
At the end of the 2014/15 season Likhopo finished 11th, just five points above the drop zone. The following year, they survived relegation on goal difference before last season’s playoffs scare.
Looking to turn the page, Likhopo went into total rebuild mode during this offseason turning over roughly 85 percent of their squad and turning a traditionally young team into an even younger crew.

The club’s hopes heading into this season now rested on a new crop of talented youngsters such as defender Tuntu Moroahae, midfielders Tšepang Sefali and Pontšo Khotso and striker Thabiso Mari. There is no substitute for experience, however, and the teething pains of youth have plagued Halemakale Mahlaha’s side in this season’s opening losses to Liphakoe (2-1) and Linare (3-2).
For example, Likhopo played quite well on Sunday against Linare but mistakes at critical moments cost them the game despite dominating large periods of the game.
Mahlaha attributes his team’s struggles this season to a lack of concentration, especially towards the end of games.

The young defence in particular, which has been prone to untimely breakdowns in communication, looks a serious headache.
“We are very shaky at the back and our concentration towards the end of the game is lacking,” Mahlaha says.
“This is what we need to work on, we need to work together. The midfield is alright and so is the attack – now we need to help our defence to maintain concentration, especially towards the end of the second half,” he adds.
Likhopo have only won two of their last 15 league matches, losing 11 of them.
It is a desperate record – the worst run of form in the league – and it is why the opening losses to Liphakoe and Linare are extra disappointing because they appeared to be two winnable games.
Next up is Matlama who are likely to be charged up after they dropped valuable points against Sefotha-fotha this past weekend.
Facing ‘big brothers’ Matlama, of course, is always Likhopo’s biggest game of the season and Sunday’s clash is one ‘the Red Army’ especially need to bring their A-game because they need to start turning the corner.
Mahlaha admits his charges have to “find a rhythm and start collecting points and not leave it late (in the season) to find form.”
“We have to work on our issues and prepare for Matlama,” he adds.
“If we can do that we will have a good game. We have a whole week of preparation and to fix things.”
After Matlama, Likhopo face the two newly-promoted teams, Swallows and Galaxy, with a game against Sefotha-fotha sandwiched in between.
Likhopo’s upcoming league games:
30/09 Matlama v Likhopo (away)
07/10 Likhopo v Swallows (home)
20/10 Sefotha-fotha v Likhopo (away)
03/11 Galaxy v Likhopo (away)

On paper it is a run of games that appears to be Likhopo’s most opportune to collect points because after facing Galaxy on November 3 they have a run of matches where they face Kick4Life, champions Bantu, Lioli, Lesotho Defence Force and current leaders Lesotho Mounted Police Service in successive weeks.
It is a fact Likhopo are aware of and Mahlaha is bullish. He insists his side will improve.
The positive from his perspective is Likhopo are scoring goals compared to last season when they only scored 18 goals in 24 league games. In two games this term they have already found the net three times.

The form of new find Morena Mohlominyane, who struck a brace against Linare on Sunday, is also heartening and Mahlaha believes Likhopo will not find themselves in a relegation battle again this season. “I don’t see us ending up in the same position we were last season,” Mahlaha asserts.

“Last season we struggled to score goals, even when we scored it would be a goal that came from nowhere. But this time it is different, this past weekend (against Linare) we scored two. We were very dominant (in the game) we just made little mistakes at the back that we need to work on,” he said.

Those little mistakes, however, need to be fixed as soon as possible, before they snowball and finally doom one of the Premiership’s longest tenured clubs.
Preferably, the change needs to begin on Sunday against Likhopo’s oldest rivals, Matlama.

Luciah Phahla

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